The Gunnison valley summertime is one of monumental beauty and opportunity. Here at Three Rivers, we offer a great selection of adventures that will take you to some of the best spots around; however, the vastness of this place lends itself towards the need for personal exploration as well. I’ve collected a handful of fantastic locations that offer beautiful, scenic drives through Western Colorado, and the buck doesn’t stop there. Each of these drives will give opportunities for some awesome backcountry fly fishing within minutes of the road. Looking for some wild trout that are starving for a dry-dropper setup? Look no further.
First stop on the list is Cumberland Pass. This pass, as many in Colorado are, is a former mining access that connects the towns of Pitkin and Tincup. Both former bustling mining settlements, they exist more now as an homage to days past with heavy tourist presence in the summers. The approach from the south will take you along Quartz Creek, through the tiny town of Ohio City, and on into Pitkin. After you pass through Ohio City, watch the right side of the road for pull-offs.
There are two areas in this section you can park and access Quartz Creek. The first, larger pull-off you’ll see is the Powerhouse Hole, and if you continue up the road a minute or two, a slightly less obvious pull-off will reveal another beaver dam hole. This area was formerly known as Roosevelt Campground, but has fallen out of the care of the Forest Service. From this hole, you will see the Pitkin Valley opening up and private lands begin just upstream of here. Everything in-between these two holes is public water. Continuing on, you can take the main road through town, County 765, which will lead you past a kid’s fishing pond as you exit town. From here, the National Forest will take over and the fishing begins. A turn shortly afterwards on the right onto County 767 will provide access to Middle and South Quartz Creek, both offering brown, rainbow, and brook trout; this road dead-ends into Middle Quartz Campground. Along 765 until the elevation gain really begins, you can find North Quartz Creek as well. All three of these creeks have a large selection of small runs and beaver ponds to target, though the North and Middle creeks will often produce better fishing than the South. This road is barely wide enough for two vehicles towards the top and has a few hair-raising moments involving steep drop-offs, so be cautious when nearing the summit.
Once up and over Cumberland Pass, you will begin a descent into Taylor Park. After a series of switchbacks, you will find yourself driving down a relatively straight road through a meadow area. This is where the public fishing picks up again. West Willow Creek is quite similar to the Quartz Creek sections; beaver ponds galore and small runs in-between. Once you near the house on the left near the small dam, the water will become private for several hundred yards, eventually turning public again. Pay careful attention to signage. Tincup can be found just past this second public section. Make sure to stop in at Frenchy’s and get a slice of their famous pie! Summer fishing can really be stellar here, but prepare for the mosquitoes, which move in hoards as the seasonal heat rolls in.
Next on the list is Cottonwood Pass. Originally established by the local Ute tribes, this trail was quickly taken over by prospectors and explorers in the 1880’s. Over time, as the Natives were pushed out, this trail fell into heavy use and became a drivable pass in the 1940’s, though it was not paved until quite recently. The eastward approach begins in Taylor Park, near the northern side of Taylor Reservoir. County 209 will take you all the way to the top; the fishing, however, begins about halfway up. Watch for sights of small water, which will be Pass Creek. This creek will fish similarly to most backcountry water, with awesome dry-fly action in the warm months. Brook trout are likely here, with a potential for cutthroat as well. Cautious fishing is advised; quiet approaches and delicate casts will keep you from spooking these trout. Once at the top of the pass, you can see the headwaters of Pass Creek, which is well worth checking out. I’ve always been amazed at how the water leaks out from the mountains.
Once the views have been seen and the photos taken, begin your descent into Buena Vista on County 309. Plan to mark Hangman’s Cabin on your GPS, as this is where you begin to have proper access to Middle Cottonwood Creek. This creek will follow you down the pass for miles, opening up into pond meadows at several intervals. Further down, you can find Collegiate Peaks Campground, which is a first-come, first served facility until Memorial Day. Between Hangman’s and CPCG, there are loads of opportunity for exploration and secluded fishing for cutthroats, brookies, and the potential for other species as well. Once you complete the descent into Buena Vista, the headwaters of the Arkansas River are a short drive away. When the winds aren’t busy whipping through Granite and Leadville, this fishery is amazing as well.
For more information on the vast fisheries of the Gunnison Valley, I highly recommend “Fly Fishing the Gunnison Country,” by Doug Dillingham. This comprehensive manual is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of literature for upping your fishing potential. We always have a few copies for sale, so don’t hesitate to stop in for one.
Tight lines to you all! A beautiful summer awaits us!
Andrew Whittington is a recent graduate from Western Colorado University’s Recreation and Outdoor Education program. A first-season employee, Andrew looks forward to bringing new ideas and positive energy to the Willowfly Shop all summer long. Three Rivers Resort is the perfect base camp for a variety of fishing adventures. The resort offers cabins, lodge rooms, and vacation homes. Visit our fly shop and Orvis Endorsed guide service with premium leases for private fishing on local ranch lands. Contact at 970-641-1303 or www.3riversresort.com.